There was a subtle change in the sound of the motor, the hum of the wheels on the pavement under the bus. Anne Campbell shifted in her seat, moaned quietly as she edged just to the verge of consciousness. A hand pat on her arm jerked awake with a start.
“We’re just pulling into Bluefield,” her mother said, drawing her hand back quickly. “I’m sorry, I thought you were awake.”
Anne leaned back, rolled her shoulders to try and work the kinks out of her back. She gave her mother an apologetic glance. Her mom tried very hard not to startle her. Anne owed it to her mother to try just as hard not to overreact. “Who is picking us up?” she asked.
“Kevin McBride,” her mother said, followed by a little sigh.
Damn. She knew that. Her mother must have told her a dozen times. But nothing stuck anymore. She reached over and took her mother’s hand in her own, gave it a slight squeeze. “I’m trying, momma.”
“I know sweetheart.” They rode on into Bluefield in reflective silence.
When the bus jerked to a stop Anne threw her arm forward to brace herself. Passengers immediately began uncoiling from their protracted confinement. A kid several rows back began squalling at the sudden activity. Anne’s mother worked herself out into the aisle, planting herself firmly to create a buffer for her daughter. Anne edged over, then rose stiffly to her feet using her right hand to help pull herself up. One or two passengers cast furtive looks her way.
The driver bid each departing passenger a good day as they disembarked. As Anne passed him he gave her a salute, which she automatically returned. She and her mother worked their way to the side of the bus, where a handler was hauling bags from storage and dropping them none to gently on an awaiting dolly.
“Anne? Anne Campbell?”
Anne looked around and soon found the face of Kevin McBride in the waiting crowd. He flashed her a big smile and started weaving his way toward them. Kevin was an old friend, someone she remembered fondly, but someone she had not seen or heard from since high school. She felt awkward, and suddenly wanted to melt away into the crowd. To avoid further eye contact she turned her attention back to the luggage situation. Her duffel landed on the cart just about when Kevin arrived.
He saw her reach for it and tried to grab it. She hip checked him, and grabbed the strap herself. “I can manage.”
Her mother looked aghast. Kevin took a step back, then nodded agreeably, and said, “It’s good to see you again, Anne.” She noticed his eyes flick over to her empty left sleeve. “You look great.”
She managed a smile.
“I can’t thank you enough, Kevin,” her mother said moving between them. She now clutched her own small bag in her hand.
“Well, I can take that,” Kevin said, and relieved Mrs. Campbell of her suitcase. “My truck’s around the corner. Best get a move on if I don’t want a ticket. You need to use the facilities first?”
Anne was beginning to feel panic settling in. Too many people, too close for comfort. She shook her head no, and fell in as Kevin lead the way. Once they were away from the bus the crowd dispersed rapidly – there are only so many folks that get off in Bluefield, West Virginia.
“Sorry things didn’t work out with Joe,” Kevin said as they headed north on Route 52.
Anne sat wedged between Kevin and her mother, staring straight ahead. What could she say to that?
“I never did like him much,” Kevin went on.
She turned and looked at him. He was focused on the road, his face open and honest, totally without malice. She remembered Kevin was like that – said whatever was on his mind.
“You’re probably better off without him.”
“How’s your mom doing, Kevin?” Mrs. Campbell asked.
“Oh, she’s doing much better. They say she’s in complete remission.” He leaned forward and flipped on the radio. Country music filled the cab. “We pray, but we’re prepared for what may come.” He looked over at Anne. “We prayed for you too, Anne. I’m real sorry about your arm.”
Mrs. Campbell sank back in her seat, defeated.
“If only you hadn’t had to do that second deployment.” He seemed to consider what he had just said, and frowned. “But then, you’d still be married to Joe.” There was a long awkward silence broken only by the music. “I just want you to know, that if you need anyone to talk to, need any help getting adjusted… Well, I’m real glad your home.”
He cut to the right, turning down a little rut of a road. The move threw her into him since she had no left arm to brace herself. The truck rattled on, up the narrow mountain valley.
Anne looked over at Kevin and thought about her ex, Joe. Kevin was right. She was better off without him.